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Mayor Emanuel: Closing Chicago schools is the responsible decision

| Saturday, March 23, 2013, 8:33 p.m.

CHICAGO — Mayor Rahm Emanuel responded on Saturday to widespread criticism of his plan to close 54 Chicago Public Schools, saying he is not interested in doing what is politically easy and that the pain of the closings does not compare to the anguish of “trapping” kids in failing schools.

“If we don't make these changes, we haven't lived up to our responsibility as adults to the children of the city of Chicago,” Emanuel said in his first public statements since Thursday's announcement. “And I did not run for office to shirk my responsibility.”

Emanuel was out of town when his schools chief, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, announced the closings. It is the largest number of CPS schools to be shuttered in a single year, and officials say it will affect about 30,000 students in the nation's third-largest school district.

The long-awaited announcement angered many parents, teachers, lawmakers and community members, who say it disproportionately affects minority neighborhoods. Opponents argue the closings will endanger children who may have to cross gang boundaries to get to a new school, and will eliminate facilities considered anchors in some struggling communities.

Opponents protested outside several schools on Friday, and the Chicago Teachers Union and other organizations are planning a march on Wednesday in downtown Chicago.

Parent Yolanda Harris called the plan “unfair” and said she was starting to second-guess her decision to vote for Emanuel for mayor. Her four children attend Dumas Technology Academy, which is slated to be closed.

“It's not to say (Emanuel) is a bad person, but I'm saying I don't agree with a lot of the decisions he's making,” said Harris, who protested outside the school on Friday with other parents. “He's making big mistakes.”

The mayor and Byrd-Bennett say the closings are necessary to address a $1 billion budget shortfall and because many CPS schools are half-empty, failing academically and in need of repair. They say the plan will save the district $560 million over 10 years in capital costs and an additional $43 million per year in operating costs.

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